Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health

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Irradiated Food?


Radura symbol used for irradiated food in USA ...

Radura symbol used for irradiated food in USA (as legally implemented) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Food irradiation has been around for decades and has been approved for spices, dry vegetable seasonings.   Other additions to the approved list are shell eggs and seeds, seafood,  lettuce. spinach, poultry.  Due to the recent Listeria outbreaks, manufacturers have petitioned the U.S. government for permission to irradiate processed meats such as hot dogs.  All irradiated foods, except dried seasonings must be labeled with the international symbol, Radura and a statement that the product has been treated by this process.  Americans appear to have an unfounded fear of this process and many think that the food becomes radioactive.  This is not true; no radioactive residues remain and the process is as safe as heating your dinner in a microwave.  There is no change in nutritional quality or taste, texture or appearance. Many countries including Mexico, France, Japan and Italy have been using this technology for many food products.  Pasteurization when introduced in the late nineteenth century was met with similar apprehension.  Consumer acceptance is the key – if it occurs, many cases of food borne illness could be prevented along with the health complications associated with these illnesses.


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Food Allergies: A Taste Could Be Dangerous

EpiPens are portable epinephrine-dispensing de...

EpiPens are portable epinephrine-dispensing devices which can be used to alleviate the symptoms of severe, acute allergies. (Photo credit: Wikipedia

A food allergy is an abnormal physical reaction of the immune system to a particular food. Food allergens are proteins that are not broken down during cooking or by enzymes in the body during digestion. In contrast, a food intolerance is an adverse reaction to a food that does not invoke an immune response, e.g. lactose intolerance.

When a food allergen enters the blood, it can cause a drop in blood pressure; when they are near the skin, hives can develop; when they make their way to the lungs, asthma can occur. The reactions can appear quickly as a few minutes after eating the offender. This may result in an anaphylactic reaction, which are severe, life-threatening reactions that cause constriction of the airways in the lungs which inhibits the ability to breathe.

Eggs, milk and peanuts are the most common sources of food allergies in children. In adults, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, wheat, soy and eggs are most common. These foods together cause 90 percent of all reactions to food allergens. Some children will outgrow their reactions to milk and up to 20 percent of them outgrow a peanut allergy. Adults are rarely able to rid themselves of a food allergy once it is established.

Food allergies appear to be increasing.  See a previous post HERE.  The following article discusses some of the reasons they be on the rise.


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What’s So Great About Spinach?

1 kg of Spinach leaves separated from the stem...

1 kg of Spinach leaves separated from the stems. See Image:spinach_leaves_stems.jpg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Did Popeye know something? Whose idea was it that this cartoon character pulls out his can of spinach before attempting feats of strength? In every Popeye the sailor cartoon (c.1930), he invariably pulls a can of spinach from his shirt, and eats the entire contents. Upon swallowing the spinach, he displays superhuman powers and he is easily able to save the day from threatening villains.

Spinach originated in Nepal in 647 but spread around the world; by the eleventh century it had reached Europe via North Africa. Often “Florentine” is described when referring to a spinach dish which is attributed to Catherine de” Medici in Florence Italy. Catherine married a French King Henry II  where she taught cooks to prepare spinach, her favorite food.

Spinach is a nutritional powerhouse. One serving (1 cup) contains 1111 percent of the Daily Value for vitamin K and 377 percent of vitamin A. It is also rich in vitamins B6, C, and E, folate, potassium, iron, magnesium, riboflavin, calcium, thiamine, zinc and omega-3 fatty acids. These nutrients appear in greater concentrations in cooked and frozen spinach. A preferred cooking method is to sauté it in olive oil and pine nuts for a short time to preserve the vitamin and mineral content.

One cup serving of cooked spinach  contains only about 41 calories, 5.4 grams of protein, 0.5 grams of total fat, and 4.5 grams of fiber.

Popeye may not have known that spinach contains a compound called neoxanthin reported to help prostate cancer cells self- destruct. It contains other cancer fighters called flavonoids that in one study slowed down cell division of stomach cancer cells in mice. Another study reported that women  who ate more spinach, the less incidence of breast cancer.

One problem: The Environmental Working Group listed spinach as one of the top twelve foods most contaminated with pesticides. If this is true, eating the organic varieties may be prudent.




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Sensible Diet Advice

English: Healthy Food For Life logo

English: Healthy Food For Life logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Well, it looks like some sense is finally beginning in the diet wars world.  Should we feast on fat or carbohydrates to lose some pounds?  Based on some recent research it appears that it really doesn’t matter – it’s the diet you can maintain that is most important.  Restrictive diets never worked and  they still don’t.


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Blue Zones and Aging

English: Dan Buettner speaking at The UP Exper...

English: Dan Buettner speaking at The UP Experience 2010 in October 2010. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Blue Zones: Nine Lessons for Living Longer from the people who’ve lived the longest by Dan Buettner is an excellent  book on lifestyles around the globe with some interesting descriptions of health and old age from a cultural perspective.  This article succinctly presents a brief summary of each of the Zones in respect to the type of foods the centenarians eat.   Highly recommended book.


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A New Revolution?

Many people have long been concerned about food additives so many fast food resturant chains and food companies are removing many of them.  Will they be missed – probably not!.  Some additives are needed for quality and shelf life.  Processed foods are loaded with them – look at the long ingredient lists some of which take up most of the space on  the food label.


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The Flavors of the Mediterranean

English: Olives in olive oil.

English: Olives in olive oil. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Mediterranean region offers some of the most varied cuisines in our world. Much is written about this diet’s health benefits that has been supported by a plethora of research studies. There is no one Mediterranean diet but its origins arise from the olive-growing countries adjacent to the Mediterranean Sea and has been evolving for centuries. I prefer to call it a “cuisine”.

Most often, the cuisines of southern France, Italy, Spain and Greece are featured in the diet’s characteristics. This blog has written extensively about this cuisine as reported HERE.

Henry Blackburn, M.D. of the University of Minnesota Division of Epidemiology best described the typical consumer of the traditional cuisine in this way: “He is a shepherd or small farmer a beekeeper or fisherman, or a tender of olives or vines. He walks to work daily and labors in the soft light of his Greek isle….

His midday main meal is of eggplant, with large livery mushrooms, crisp vegetables and country bread dipped in the nectar that is golden Cretan olive oil. One a week, there is a bit of lamb, naturally spiced from sheep grazing in thyme-filled pastures.” This depiction contrasts the fast-food-eating patron that grabs a Big Mac or its counterparts from the drive-in window of the local fast food establishments where cars line up daily to pick up their breakfast, lunches, or dinners.

As one might expect, a significant percentage of the calories of the traditional Mediterranean cuisine comes from fat – around 30 percent in Italy to an excess of 42 percent on the Greek Island of Crete. Yet, historically, the rates of heart disease in these countries have been as much as 90 percent lower than the rates in the United States.

The science has been discussed in previous posts – search the Mediterranean diet on this blog. What foods and characteristics compose the traditional Mediterranean cuisine?

  • Whole minimally processed grains
  • Abundant plant foods including fruits, vegetables, beans, potatoes
  • Nuts, beans, legumes and seeds which provide the protein in many dishes.
  • Olive and olive oil are the main fat source.
  • Milk, cheese and yogurt
  • Fish and shellfish such as tuna, herring, sardines, salmon, mussels, clams, shrimp
  • Eggs often replace meats but limited to about four a week.
  • Meats are eaten infrequently and used as condiments instead of the whole meal.
  • Sweets are eaten infrequently and in small amounts
  • Wine is consumed in moderation and with meals – no happy hours!!
  • Daily physical activity is part of every day.
  • Meals are enjoyed with others.
  • The use of spices and herbs are used liberally to enhance flavor of all foods.

How do we emulate the cuisine of the healthy Mediterranean? It is a way of life and a way of eating that is foreign to us. The Italians call this cuisine la cucina genuina or cuisine of the poor. This is the diet of those cultures that traditionally work the land and use seasonal ingredients grown in small gardens. Most of us do not fit that lifestyle. It is a back to basics cuisine. Lying roughly between the thirtieth and fortieth parallels of latitude, the Mediterranean enjoys a climate that is generally mild, giving crops in most of the region a long growing season. By keeping it simple, we can enjoy the flavors that are the essence of Mediterranean cooking. We should be able to purchase these ingredients and stock our pantries using the very ingredients that make up the foods and meals of this cuisine.

Keep them in the pantry and search for recipes that use them. Look for a good Mediterranean cookbook and search the Internet for recipes and meal plans to get you started with this healthier way to eat. What herbs, spices and ingredients give the Mediterranean cuisine its wonderful flavors?


SALT: anchovies, prosciutto, capers, olives, roasted salted nuts, some cheeses.

ACID: Citrus zest and juice, vinegar, wine, tomatoes

SMOKE: smoked paprika, cumin, pancetta, smoked meats

HEAT: hot chiles, red pepper flakes, spicy sausage

AROMATIC: Cinnamon, turmeric, cardamom, coriander, saffron, fennel, paprika, allspice, nutmeg, garlic, onion, ginger

SWEET: sugar, dried fruits, pomegranage, sweet potatoes, carrots, butternut squash, pumpkin

PUNGENT: garlic, onion, ginger, turmeric

One thing people get nervous about when eating less meat in their diets is where do you get enough protein? Red meats are consumed only occasionally and eggs, poultry, and fish are recommended only a few times a week? Here is where the beans and lentils come in, which are a staple in this diet. They are relatively inexpensive and can provide an adequate amount of protein. Beans are also an excellent source of soluble fiber and provide a decent amount of folate and iron. For example just one cup of black bean soup provides 9 grams of fiber, about one-third of a day’s fiber quota.

If you are inspired to increase your intake of beans:

  • Opt for the lentil or split pea soup instead of the usual mushroom, tomato, or chicken noodle soup.
  • Serve black bean dip or hummus as an appetizer.
  • Toss a can of black or white beans to any soup or casserole.
  • Add chickpeas (garbonzo) to your salad.
  • Serve herbed beans salads or pureed beans as a side dish as an alternative to potatoes.

Bon appétit


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